Grant Roszkowiak arrived in Haiti in the summer of 2009 with a five-year plan. But the NWHCM missionary burned through so many of his goals that it started looking more like a one-year plan.
The 22-year-old from Savannah, Georgia joined Northwest Haiti Christian Mission full-time after graduating in 2009 from Wheaton College. It took him just a few weeks living in Saint-Louis du Nord, Haiti, to put a finger on his passions: Sports and youth.
Now Roszkowiak is spearheading NWHCM ministries that are reaching out to everyone from down-and-out street kids to professional soccer players.
He sees sports as a natural vehicle for the gospel. “If you play soccer in Sri Lanka and you play soccer here, it’s the same soccer and it just naturally bridges cultures,” he said.
Roszkowiak’s most immediate — and somewhat surprising — success story has been his involvement with the Association Sportif de Saint-Louis du Nord, or ASSL. It’s the local professional soccer franchise, about as big-time-sports as one can find in this small Haitian city.
A few weeks after arriving in Haiti, ASSL supporters approached NWHCM and asked about ways the mission could partner with the team. Roszkowiak jumped in and began attending practices and hanging out with the players. He led morning devotions with the team and, before long, was unexpectedly appointed to the organization’s board of directors.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Roszkowiak said with a laugh. The next thing he knew, he was dissecting team budgets and meeting with the city’s mayor.
Though professional soccer players in Haiti earn a reasonable salary (considering Haiti’s larger economy) and are relatively well cared-for, the teams often lack the basic equipment that sports teams in developed countries take for granted. So Roszkowiak began contacting soccer equipment manufacturers about donating supplies to NWHCM.
The response was overwhelming. California-based Xara Soccer has given hundreds of adult and youth uniforms, soccer balls, socks, and other equipment like shin guards and shoes. Canadian soccer equipment manufacturer Admiral donated uniforms and socks they were able to ship directly from a warehouse in the Dominican Republic.
NWHCM has received so much equipment that Roszkowiak has used much of it for youth ministry, as well. Youth teams in the area and in the Far West, the region of Haiti west of Port-de-Paix, are now playing with the donated jerseys and soccer balls.
Roszkowiak’s next step is to get Bibles into the hands of ASSL’s two Christian players and some of the others. If the guys on the team come to know Christ, he said, there is enormous potential for the witness they could have in the community. “These people are the heroes of Saint-Louis,” he said.
In many ways, Roskowiak’s passion for youth ministry works in tandem with his love of sports. A football player and swimmer in high school, he began the first Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at his school in Savannah. At Wheaton College, where he continued playing football, he was actively involved with youth at nearby Willow Creek Community Church.
Shortly after joining NWHCM, Roszkowiak began helping with the youth group at the Citadel Church in Saint-Louis du Nord. He organized youth community service activities. And now he has his eye on building a community basketball complex and youth center in town.
“There’s nothing (for youth) to do here. After school, people just hang around, and that’s where trouble happens,” he said “If I have a safe place where these kids can come and play and hang out, hear the Word, but also just be kids and relax and watch movies and play ping pong or whatever, that’s something.”
Roszkowiak plans to finish construction of the basketball courts (conveniently located right next to the ASSL soccer field) and launch an annual three-on-three basketball tournament and league. He hopes the tournament would draw hundreds of youth and provide part-time jobs for pastors and other community members serving as referees.
“If 20 people are playing and 40 people are watching, that’s 60 people right there,” he said. “Over and over again, that adds up. It’s people hearing the gospel all the time in a fun way, and it’s just something to look forward to.”
Eventually, Roszkowiak even wants to form partnerships with college and professional sports teams in the United States that would bring athletes to Northwest Haiti to do sports camps and youth events.
It has not all been easy or without complications. But Roszkowiak finds encouragement from a conversation he had recently with another NWHCM missionary. They were attending a funeral for a local youth who had been killed in a fight. The missionary turned to Roszkowiak and said: “I finally understand why you do what you do.” She said she didn’t want this to happen to any of the kids in NWHCM schools.
I want “to give these kids a hope for the future, to make them feel human, to go to a movie and not worry about where their next meal is coming from,” Roszkowiak said. “It gives them an opportunity to experience Christ in a new way.”